President Biden announced executive actions Wednesday to combat climate change, but chose not to heed calls from members of his own party to declare a national emergency to unlock a variety of additional powers.
At a shuttered power plant in Massachusetts that will now be used for clean energy, Mr. Biden said he‘ll take steps to expand the possible use of wind energy in the Gulf of Mexico and along the southern Atlantic coast. His three-pronged plan also includes relatively minor actions to aid low-income families with energy costs, and to help communities prepare against natural disasters.
“I have a responsibility to act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger. And that’s what climate change is about,” Mr. Biden said. “It is literally — not figuratively — a clear and present danger. The health of our citizens and our communities are literally at stake.”
Although the measures unveiled offer the president’s agenda a minor win in the wake of several major climate-related setbacks by Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court, the response is expected to irk Democrats and environmentalists who in recent days have demanded a more wide-ranging and aggressive plan.
Mr. Biden‘s action came just days after centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia torpedoed Democrats’ hopes for a party-line spending bill to include energy and climate provisions.
“Since Congress is not acting as it should … this is an emergency. I will look at it that way,” Mr. Biden said.
The new measures are largely extensions of previous action already taken by the administration.
Rep. Ro Khanna, a leading climate advocate, said he was surprised the president did not declare an official emergency.
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“He should declare an emergency. That’s what gives the power of the agencies to take the actions that they need to tackle climate,” the California Democrat said.
Mr. Biden signaled that there will be more action to come in the following weeks, vowing to “use the power I have as president to turn these words into formal, official government actions.”
Green activists are now in a wait-and-see moment.
“All the resilience funding in the world won’t save us if we don’t mitigate the mounting crisis,” said Evergreen Action Executive Director Jamal Raad. “The time for speeches is over, it’s time for concrete action.”
Mr. Biden has faced intense scrutiny of his green policies from Republicans and the oil and natural gas industry, who accuse the president of hindering domestic fossil fuel production that’s led to soaring energy costs and record prices at the pump.
“Biden‘s solution to his gas hike? He wants you to buy an expensive electric vehicle while his climate czar John Kerry flies his private jet around the world,” said Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel. “Biden and his administration are so blatantly out-of-touch with the American people — for them, the pain at the pump is the point.”
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The president made the announcement at the closed Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts.
“Bottom line: This is an opportunity for the president to come out and provide his take on where we are on climate, on the urgency, on the opportunity,” a senior administration official said prior to Mr. Biden‘s speech.
The president has vowed in recent days to use “every power” at his disposal to tackle environmental action. Still, Mr. Biden is not willing to tap into his broad emergency powers to take the sort of aggressive directives to address climate change that his party has demanded.
White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy dodged repeated questions about the sort of action that is to come and why Mr. Biden did not declare an official emergency.
“It was just a decision that we need to be thoughtful about this, and we want to outline actions, not just declare things,” she told reporters.
Democrats and environmentalists have pushed for a wish list of climate proposals, such as strengthening vehicle emissions standards, using wartime powers under the Defense Production Act (DPA), restricting fossil fuel imports, ending fossil fuel subsidies, preventing new fossil fuel infrastructure projects and redirecting money to clean energy.
Previously, the president invoked emergency powers to suspend U.S. tariffs on solar panel imports, and used the DPA to boost clean-energy technology, including solar panels and electric heat pumps.
Mr. Biden‘s green agenda has suffered repeated setbacks, including a recent Supreme Court ruling slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to curb emissions from power plants. Negotiations on new climate spending broke down with Mr. Manchin over his concern with 40-year-high inflation.
On expanding offshore wind, Mr. Biden is directing the Interior Department to explore 700,000 acres in the Gulf of Mexico for new lease sales for wind turbine development, something the White House said will have the potential to power at least three million homes. The administration will seek public input on two potential areas: one off the coast of Galveston, Texas, and another off the coast of Lake Charles, Louisiana.
The president is also directing the department to expand wind energy in the Atlantic Ocean off the mid-Atlantic and southern states, and Florida’s Gulf Coast.
The White House said the moves were “alleviating uncertainty” created by the Trump administration when it barred offshore lease sales for energy exploration off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. The new action enhances a federal-state partnership made last month between the administration and 11 East Coast governors to expand offshore wind.
The Department of Health and Human Services is issuing guidance to expand the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps families with household energy costs, including the purchasing of efficient air conditioners and electric heat pumps.
The administration touted itself for releasing $385 million through the program for families to reduce cooling and heating costs, which was congressionally mandated in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law.
Mr. Biden is also allocating $2.3 billion to communities across the country through FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities program to combat natural disasters. FEMA will prioritize marginalized, overburdened and underserved populations.